Through a satellite center in Zona Rosa, a no-kill animal shelter finds homes for dogs and cats

01/07/2014 8:50 PM

01/07/2014 8:50 PM

Every time the door opened, ears perked up and tails wagged.

An enthusiastic black Labrador retriever mix paced excitedly in his kennel, keeping hopeful eyes on the mom and kids who walked into the room. Next to him, an indistinguishable brown pup barked happily from his kennel, eager to capture the kids’ attention.

A few short-haired tabby cats peered curiously over at the commotion but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth losing sleep over.

It’s not a typical scene for a high-end shopping center, sprawling with fashionable boutiques and restaurants. But at Zona Rosa, it has become the norm.

Ever since KC Pet Project — Kansas City’s official animal shelter based at 4400 Raytown Road in Jackson County — opened its satellite location at the Northland retail destination a year ago, adoption rates for homeless pets have skyrocketed.

The secondary location is the main reason the organization was able to earn no-kill status in July, said Teresa Johnson, executive director and chief lifesaving officer of KC Pet Project.

“Nearly one-third of our adoptions this year were out of Zona Rosa,” she said. “It is truly a lifesaving location because it gives us more space at the main facility to house new animals brought in. We couldn’t be a no-kill shelter without the additional space to put these pets.”

KC Pet Project opened the Zona Rosa adoption center at 7351 N.W. 87th Terrace in November 2012, intending for it to stay open just during the holidays.

But the site was so successful, with 240 adoptions in two months, that the organization decided to make it a permanent location. It ended up generating 1,671 by Christmas 2013.

The new adoption site is just that — a place for people to pick out furry companions to take home. It’s not a shelter, meaning residents cannot drop animals off there. The main facility on Raytown Road serves that purpose.

But the new location has taken a huge load off the main shelter’s hands by housing about 40 cats and 10 dogs.

This month the 2,000-square-foot facility in Zona Rosa will be expanding.

It will be taking over the retail space next door, adding 1,800 square feet. The new space will house the cats and also feature a cattery, which is a free-roaming area for felines. There will be a meet-and-greet room for prospective adopters to play with the pets. It will also provide room for dog training and volunteer orientations.

On a bitterly chilly December afternoon, Tori Fugate, KC Pet Project manager of marketing and development, stopped by the Zona Rosa facility to be presented with an $11,000 check from the Zona Rosa Community Foundation. The foundation picked KC Pet Project to be the recipient of its June and July Change for Charity funds.

Change for Charity traditionally has donated meter and ticket money to six charities each year, although that number is changing to 12 this year.

KC Pet Project plans to use the money for emergency medical treatment for injured animals.

“Every dollar helps, because it all goes toward the pets,” Fugate said, raising her voice to be heard among the excited dog barks. “There is a lot of care that goes into providing for them.”

Several businesses at Zona Rosa also have raised money for KC Pet Project through cross-promotions and donations. They’ve helped spread the word about the adoption site to their customers. Some even keep dog bowls filled with water outside for dogs to enjoy as volunteers walk them around the outdoor shopping center.

Zona Yoga, which sits around the corner from the adoption site, holds a donation class the second Saturday of every month. Patrons are welcome to take the yoga class for free, with a monetary donation or pet item, such as food or toys.

After each class, the yoga patrons head over to the KC Pet Project to volunteer, whether it’s walking the dogs or cleaning cages.

“Part of what we do in yoga is to always look for ways to give back to the community,” Kelly Colln, co-owner of Zona Yoga.

Management at Zona Rosa is ecstatic as well.

“It’s fun to see the volunteers walking the animals,” said Rosemary Salerno, the general manager of Zona Rosa. “It adds some fun to the center.”

Salerno points out that with 10 million visitors per year, Zona Rosa has been a perfect place for KC Pet Project to gain awareness. She’s astonished by the number of pets that have been adopted out of the Northland site.

KC Pet Project took over the city-run Kansas City animal shelter in January 2012, because local government realized huge changes needed to be made. It had earned a dismal reputation over the previous 40 years, with the shelter euthanising nearly 70 percent of the animals brought in, Fugate said.

“If you lost your dog, you didn’t want it to end up there,” she said, “because chances are it wouldn’t make it out alive.”

When KC Pet Project took over the shelter, it had one major goal: to keep all healthy and treatable pets brought into the facility alive.

With intake numbers increasing heavily, the organization was up for a huge challenge. It kept those numbers at or above 90 percent through July, when it was officially deemed a no-kill shelter.

It is now the largest no-kill shelter in the Kansas City area and the fourth-largest no-kill shelter in the United States, Johnson aid.

The Zona Rosa location was the catalyst for reaching that goal, she added.

Yet the organization desperately needs a new building, Johnson said. Its main facility, built in 1972, is falling apart. Its kennels are too old, and it’s too small.

“There is always talk about a new shelter, but no plan is in place yet,” Fugate said. “We’re hoping it will happen soon, though.”

Their frustration over a new shelter has not gone unnoticed at City Hall

Kansas City Councilman John Sharp, who is also the chairman of the council’s Public Safety & Emergency Services Committee, is in favor of Pet Project receiving new accommodations.

“They have done a phenomenal job in achieving a no-kill status, especially despite the glaring inadequacies of the shelter,” he said. “It’s almost unbelievable.”

A new shelter, however, would not be cheap. He estimates it would cost around $10 million, which would be too much money to take out of the city’s operating budget.

“I would like to give voters the opportunity to vote on a small general obligation bond to finance a new shelter,” Sharp said. “It would only require a small property tax increase — no more than $10 per year for the average homeowner. I think most Kansas Citians would be willing to pay the price of a pizza to give our city a shelter we don’t have to be ashamed of.”

Sharp said there are two opportunities in 2014 to put such an election on the ballot, but first it would be up to the City Council to decide whether to go forward with the idea.

Sharp, who represents south Kansas City, would also like to see the shelter expand to his neck of the woods.

“We clearly need another satellite location in south Kansas City to match the one north of the river,” he said. “The Zona Rosa adoption site exceeded everyone’s expectations with its huge success.”

Another challenge has been spreading the word about the change in leadership and the shelter’s no-kill status. A lot of people are still hesitant to take unwanted pets to the Raytown Road location, because they haven’t realized it’s become a safe haven for animals, Fugate said.

To fix that tarnished image, the organization has immersed itself into the Kansas City scene. Professional photographers volunteer to take photos of every animal for KC Pet Project’s social media pages and website. The organization interacts heavily on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.

It’s also creating events which officials hope will become annual. Last March, KC Pet Project hosted Hoops for Hounds, which took place at Boulevard Brewing Co. on the first night of the Big 12 basketball tournament. It raised $16,000.

A couple times per year, KC Pet Project has participated in charity bingo night at Hamburger Mary’s Bar & Grille on Southwest Boulevard.

On the First Friday in Kansas City’s Freighthouse district last September, KC Pet Project held Go Fetch Art, in which local artists and celebrities painted clay dog bowls to sell. That raised around $5,000.

It hopes to do even more events next year, Fugate said.

The organization also wants to create more pet education for Kansas City residents and to decrease the number of abandoned pets being brought to the shelter.

KC Pet Project also hopes that one day the United States can become a no-kill nation.

“Other shelters in other cities are asking us how we do it,” Johnson said. “It’s about becoming creative.”

For now, Fugate said, the goal is pairing every dog, cat, chicken, goat or bunny that ends up abandoned at the shelter with someone to love it.

“When you adopt, you’re really saving two lives,” said Fugate, gazing at a few sleepy black cats curled on top of each other in their cage at the Zona Rosa facility. “You’re saving the pet you’re adopting and the pet which comes in after them.”

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